updated 3/20/2008 8:05:23 AM ET 2008-03-20T12:05:23

Upstate New York will soon be home to the nation's largest Wal-Mart store.

Workers are combining a standard-sized Wal-Mart store with space left vacant by a failed Sam's Club warehouse outlet on the outskirts of Albany to create a 260,000-square-foot, two-story "supercenter" selling department store merchandise as well as groceries, liquor and automotive and other services.

That's more than 25 percent bigger than the average Wal-Mart supercenter, which typically measures around 205,000 square feet, said Phil Serghini, a Wal-Mart spokesman in New York.

Real estate planners at the Bentonville, Ark.-based company _ the world's largest retailer with more than 4,100 stores in the United States and 3,100 more overseas _ never set out to build their biggest store in New York's Capital Region. In fact, the larger stores tend to be built in rural areas, Serghini said.

In the 1990s, Wal-Mart co-located a Sam's Club _ its members-only warehouse store _ with a Wal-Mart department store in a dual-level shopping center, with the Sam's Club on the lower floor.

The company closed the Sam's Club in 2006 because of low membership and decided to use that space to turn the department store into a supercenter.

"It's the largest one really only because of the situation involving the former Sam's Club," Serghini said. "But it is unique, and the customers are going to be very pleased with the layout."

The company had kept the project relatively quiet, not formally announcing it to the news media or to customers. Construction started about a year ago, but the transformation only recently became visible when workers opened up the newly renovated bottom floor and installed escalators.

"I didn't even realize anything was happening over here until I came back from winter break and all of a sudden there was a big hole in the floor," said Susannah Coon, a student at a nearby university who has shopped there since she started classes three years ago.

Denise Clow, who lives in suburban Albany and said she has shopped at the store since it opened, was particularly impressed by the escalators, which move both people and shopping carts. A hook grabs the bottom of the cart, which is then pulled along a track in the center of the escalator alongside the shopper riding the moving stairs.

"That's so cool," she said.

Aside from the newfangled escalators and wider aisles, the nation's biggest Wal-Mart won't be all that different from the rest. It will have the same kind of merchandise and services that are available at other supercenters, Serghini said.

The store plans to celebrate its grand opening in May.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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